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Jan 20, 2012 1:23 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Pell Refuses To Recuse Himself From East Quogue Dock Application

Jan 25, 2012 10:22 AM

Southampton Town Trustee Bill Pell will turn to the town’s Ethics Committee for guidance on whether he should recuse himself from reviewing an application now before the Trustees, one that he was highly critical of prior to being elected to the board.

Attorney John Bennett insisted last week that Mr. Pell recuse himself from reviewing and voting on an application submitted by his client, Dockers Waterside Restaurant and Marina owner Larry Hoffman, because Mr. Pell had publicly opposed the application—and needled Mr. Hoffman personally—while running for office several years ago. The restaurant and marina is located on Dune Road in East Quogue.

At a Trustees meeting last Wednesday, January 18, Assistant Town Attorney Kara Bak advised Mr. Pell that, in light of Mr. Bennett’s request, he should remove himself from the application review. But the second-term Trustee resisted, saying that his comments about Mr. Hoffman’s applications in the past were made before he was on the board and privy to some of details of the document.

“I think I can approach this with an open mind,” Mr. Pell said.

In 2009, a campaign flier sent out by Mr. Pell broadcast an appeal to voters to “Tell Larry to take a long walk on a short dock.” Those words were emblazoned across a photo of the Dockers property, nestled among tidal marshes on the southern shore of Shinnecock Bay. The flier was highly critical of the Trustees at the time for approving the addition of a dock with 16 boat slips to the property, and it stated that had Mr. Pell and his running mate at the time, Chris Garvey, been on the Trustees’ board, they would have rejected it.

In 2005, during his first of three runs for the Trustees before being elected in 2009, Mr. Pell wrote a letter to the editor that was published in The Press denouncing the Trustees for even considering a much larger expansion application for Dockers’ marina facilities, which was filed in 2003. That plan, which would have allowed for 54 boat slips and refueling facilities, ultimately was withdrawn by Mr. Hoffman amid widespread public opposition when it became clear the Trustees were not going to approve it.

The Trustees approved the pared-down 16-slip plan in October 2008 but were sued by the Peconic Baykeeper, a marine environmental advocate, to vacate the decision because the Trustees did not review the plan in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The Trustees have refused to apply SEQRA guidelines to numerous applications in the past, because they say their board is exempt from such state controls because of its 17th century sovereign authority granted by the King of England and ratified in the New York State Constitution. Nonetheless, a judge ruled in February 2010 that the application before the Trustees must be vetted under SEQRA guidelines and ordered them to re-open their review.

Mr. Bennett blasted Mr. Pell last week for refusing to remove himself from the board’s review and asked the other Trustees to implore Mr. Pell to step aside. It was the first time, the former Southampton town attorney said, that he had ever encountered resistance from a member of a government regulatory board when he asked them to recuse themselves because of the potential for a perceived conflict, bias or prejudice.

“Mr. Pell’s extreme position on this, not to recuse himself, is what I would consider a red flag,” Mr. Bennett said. “It’s something I’ve never encountered in 30 years of practicing law.”

Mr. Bennett recalled an instance when he had served as town attorney that a federal judge who had been assigned to a case Mr. Bennett was handling recused himself because he and Mr. Bennett had attended the same cocktail party on occasion.

After the attorney asked the other Trustees to push Mr. Pell to recuse, the board adjourned from the meeting to discuss the matter with Ms. Bak in the town attorney’s office. When they returned, the Trustees announced that they were going to request an opinion from the town’s Ethics Board and adjourned the hearing on the Dockers application until that board could offer guidance.

Mr. Pell said on Monday that he will submit a letter this week to Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato, asking that the Ethics Board issue an advisory opinion on whether he should recuse himself from reviewing the application.

“I don’t prejudge anything,” Mr. Pell said in a phone interview this week. “Every permit that comes in, I look at on all four sides of the situation. I ask experts their opinion, and sometimes I change my mind from what I think when I look at the permit.”

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Having scoured the Town's Ethics Code for some language requiring a recusal "publicly opposing" and needling the applicant, I must suggest to my old friend John Bennett, I couldn't find any such language.

I did find the following:

"Disclosure and recusal. A Town officer or employee shall promptly disclose and recuse himself or herself from acting on a matter before the Town when acting on the matter, or failing to act on the matter, may benefit any of the persons listed in § ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Jan 20, 12 3:38 PM
Yes, where does the Ethics Code define needling? Surely cause for recusal, indeed.
By East End 2 (151), Southampton on Jan 20, 12 7:00 PM
This is a tough one for me as I can't stand Mr. Pell or Mr. Bennet - but I think I dislike Mr. Bennet more. . .

This is a ridiculous arguement that Mr. Bennet is making. So under his belief, anyone who ever has a spoken opinion about anything can never vote on a related item should they be elected? That would be like saying the President shouldn't vote on an anti-abortion bill because prior to being elected he said he was pro-choice.

As long as Mr. Pell makes an informed ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jan 20, 12 4:20 PM
What sort of bearing does your personal animus toward either individual have to do with any of this, Nature? Your brief is reasoned and rational on its own without the kabitzing preamble.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jan 22, 12 9:26 AM
Thanks for the compliment. And it makes it way more interesting and fun to read when personal animus' are used.

Also, my point is that (if the reader actually KNOWS both of these people) they both are not the warmest people and both are known to have ulterior motives and don't like playing within the confines of the rules. It's my belief from personal experience that Mr. Bennet pushes the boundaries way further than Mr. Pell and for all the wrong reasons (whereas at least with Mr. Pell ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jan 22, 12 10:55 AM
Pell did not merely speak an "opinion" or have a casual comment at a fundraiser on the matter - of course someone could have an opinion and then vote. It's that he was over-zealous and used in it in campaign literature, made statements that he would never allow any alterations at the site ever. Had he put all of this on the record before the issue came up, he would have at least been transparent. The applicant had to bring it up and there seems to be some bias on his part.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 23, 12 11:43 AM
Mr. Pell is correct.
By lucy2 (63), Southampton, NY on Jan 20, 12 5:11 PM
Sometimes people are elected because they believe strongly on issues.
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Jan 20, 12 6:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
According to reports, there are significant documents, letters and on-the-record comments that Mr. Pell made saying he would never permit any alterations at the site, under any circumstances. That being said, if Mr. Pell truly used a flyer saying what this news article reports, then there is certainly a clear and obvious impropriety on Mr. Pell's part. Mr. Pell certainly has the right to be outspoken about any issue before and after the election, but he locked himself out when he used it as a ...more
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 20, 12 6:38 PM
3 members liked this comment
I think you need to look up the word "impropriety," sir -- in this case you mean "bias." In your instance, any impropriety would come after the fact.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jan 22, 12 9:32 AM
I stand corrected, bias is the correct usage...
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 23, 12 11:39 AM
I have a few questions:

How much money did the Baykeeper contribute to Mr. Pell's campaign?

Why did Mr. Pell use Dockers (and photo's of Dockers) as a campaign platform when there were so many other issues to speak about?

Whose pocket is Mr. Pell in here?

This whole thing sounds fishy to me - It will be interesting to see what unfolds now that this can of worms has been opened.

By rita33 (11), East Quogue on Jan 20, 12 6:54 PM
I've known Bill for decades. He's not in anyone's pocket.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Jan 22, 12 9:13 PM
There certainly seems to be some bias here though - you'd have to admit that.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 23, 12 11:44 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Jan 20, 12 6:58 PM
1 member liked this comment
I don't see why Mr. Pell should recuse himself from this matter. He was against it when he campaigned, he may review more data and change is mind or may not. His position on the matter has been expressed in the past, its likely going to be against the dock. There is no conflict there. In light of his opposition in the past it would be more of a surprise if he did a U turn now. Then he has to justify why to those supporters that voted for him in support of his campaign opposition to the docks.
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Jan 21, 12 8:38 AM
1 member liked this comment
There in lies his bias if he wont look at the full record, understand the evidence and testimony and make an informed decision. Bill testified against an old, larger application that was withdrawn. maybe the application is smaller and reasonable. He said he would never approve anything at the site - anything? Not even replacing the existing CCA material at the current marina?

"Anything" - seem like front line bias to me.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 23, 12 11:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 23, 12 11:48 AM
Stick to your guns Billy Pell!!! That's why you got re-elected.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 21, 12 11:57 AM
If a liar tells the truth is he still a liar?

Sticking to your guns might be a nice sound bite, but could land him in a heap of trouble. If the applicant presses the issue in court, Bill can be held personally liable and not protected under Town Law.

Just saying...
By rita33 (11), East Quogue on Jan 21, 12 12:06 PM
The Town Trustees are all overzealous bigots... Get off your high horses and stop living on your self proclaimed thrones of stupidity. You too, Marty Shea...
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Jan 21, 12 12:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
perhaps we should return to Sheakspear's Henry the 6th, part two, spoken by Dick...........I'm sure Mr, Bennett knows the line, eh ? All lawyers do. Tongue in cheek of course. As was the intent of the brilliant Mr. Sheakseare, who could write volumes about this town, as no one could possibly take that line seriously. Right ?
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Jan 21, 12 3:01 PM
Pell is obviously relatively dim-witted. I can see both sides to this story, but if he has any common sense he can make a logical and easy decision here - stay out of it and recuse yourself. It's obvious that Pell has a majorly biased and personal issue with Dockers. He made his decision on any future applications submitted by Docker's clear during his campaign, demonstrating his inability to hear the facts and make an educated decision. His lack of intelligence and objectivity is dangerous.
By WHB Resident (9), WHB on Jan 22, 12 11:22 AM
3 members liked this comment
Mr. Pells independent voice and willingness to stand up for what is right is unique on this Trustee Board. Anyone knolwegeable and visiting Dockers site and knowing theexpansion would not allow any more boats, docks,etc. Protect what is left. If this were in the Chesapeake, not a chnace the Turstees would aprrove anything. The channel in is shallow and traverses between shoals/flats and ripe for any grounding disturbances.

And don't think for a minute that the other trusttess don't
t ...more
By waterboy (11), southampton on Jan 22, 12 12:11 PM
3 members liked this comment
Elected officials need to "recuse themselves" from carrying out campaign promises ? Only on the East End...
By rburger (82), Remsenburg on Jan 24, 12 3:02 PM
2 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jan 25, 12 12:47 AM
I agree with rburger, Mr. Pell was elected by the people to carryout the position of town trustee. What if maybe the public actually voted him in based on the issues he stood for?
Perhaps Mr. Bennett (who used to 'play for the home team' and now is returning as a paid representative for the applicant) should focus on preparing a solid application, with serious data and unbiased research which supports current proposal, rather than bullying Mr. Pell.
Bill Pell ...more
By Dayze (5), East Quogue on Jan 25, 12 2:53 AM
No reason for Mr. Pell to recuse himself. Stick to your guns, Bill!
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jan 25, 12 11:08 AM
This should prove interesting.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Jan 25, 12 7:38 PM
Mr. Pell stated, “I think I can approach this with an open mind”

Explain why then Mr. Pell voted "NO" to the Trustees hiring a firm to complete the required SEQR report that Baykeeper and Group for the East End demanded and the Supreme Court ruled must be completed.

So here are some of my questions:

Why would he vote not to have that done?

There is 7 years of testimony and hearings, has Bill looked at the record in the 2-years he's been on the board?

What ...more
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 25, 12 8:43 PM
“I don’t prejudge anything” yet he prejudged the application while he was running for office, made on the record comments about it and published an explicit "hate" political campaign mailer about it.

If that is not prejudging something what is?
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jan 25, 12 8:47 PM
Bill Pell was elected by the people of the Town of Southampton to look after the waterfront in the town. He should vote to protect the beautiful bay grasses that exist behind Mr. Hoffmens restaurant. He should not cave in to a legal gimmick proposed by Mr. Hoffman's lawyer. Bill should live up to his responsibility to protect the bay and not recuse himself.
By Ernie (88), Hampton Bays on Feb 3, 12 12:44 PM
Actually, as an elected official Pell should treat each case before him fairly by considering all pertinent information currently available. That may mean contradicting what he stated based on earlier proposals and different information. His statements refusing to EVER grant ANY approval at that location are improper and open the trustees to possible legal action.

There have been docks at that location for forty years and there was also an active launching ramp and a gas pump until ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Feb 3, 12 1:07 PM